Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Prague in Winter

In Prague airport just about to get on the plane for Dubai!  I spent the afternoon yesterday wandering around Prague in the cold cold cold (it went below -7 at the time). Hmmmm, one day of that made me regret not bringing a jumper or having a 'proper' jacket!!! Lots and lots of layers it was!

Prague is such a beautiful city. I'll let my photo's tell the story as it does more justice than words.

I didn't stay out in Prague quite as long as I had anticipated as the cold REALLY got to me. I think every single part of my body was cold. It probably didn't help either that my boots have fallen to pieces and had a big crack at the bottom and were leaking so I ended up with cold wet feet.... So I went home to re-warm and the boots are back in the bin so its back to the old converse (few years old). Moral of the story: buy better boots!! (and a winter jacket!) :)

Christmas Markets in Town Square
 In town square, where last time with CS we did all the free hugs, this time it was full with Christmas markets.

Not sure when I'll be able to write again as I've heard Dubai is pretty pricey for internet. But I will do my best as sussing out free internet- seem to have a knack for it!!! :)

Goodbye London Hello Amsterdam

 As luck would have it, I was able to skype my family on Christmas Eve, however it was quite a frustrating process as the connection kept cutting out every few minutes. I got extremely homesick as well as a result, something that I dont think has ever happened to me before.

Lauren and I on Christmas Day
Christmas Day was an enjoyable laid back day in Shoreham. We did a fair bit of walking (in the cold), and Lauren and I attempted to go to a service in the morning but somehow managed to muddle up the times and walked in half way through... oops!!!

Out for a Chrismas walk with Uncle Arthur
On Sunday (Boxing Day) we went into Brighton and did a little bit of exploring there. Again attempted to go to a particular church, the one that the band delirious goes to, except didn't manage to find it.

Some other final thoughts from England: I have discovered the secret as to why there is no sand at the beaches in england!! They use all the sand to make the roads and paths not so slippery.

I had the song 'fare well to old england forever.... cos we're bound for botany bay' stuck in my head all day yesterday morning on my way to the airport!!! Not that that is entirely true as I'm coming back to England at some point next  year. I just dont know when.

I've been catching alot of public transport lately and I have found it interesting just watching and observing things as I pass by. I was in Brighton on Sunday, catching the bus back to Shoreham and it stopped outside a little cafe that was closed, with the windows covered in get well cards for Tony. It made me think about what sort of impact we have upon other people. This man Tony,  (I assumed so) runs/owns the cafe and the community there really value him. As the bus passed by, there was a note on the front door of the cafe with details about Tony's funeral, with bunches of flowers on the ground. . I would say that comes down to his character. Maybe a morbid topic, but I hope that my life impacts people in a positive way like that.

I’m now in the process of working my way towards Dubai (arriving tomorrow night). I am currently on the plane to Prague, having spent the last 24 hours in Amsterdam. When I originally booked my tickets, the cheapest option of getting to Prague was via Amsterdam with a 6 hour layover. I thought to myself, I wonder if I can extend the layover at all, and turns out that I could with no difference in the price which meant I had much more time to explore the city.

Bicycles everywhere!
I was staying (couch surfing) with a lovely Dutch girl named Yara living in Harlaam, a town about 15minutes from Amsterdam. When I arrived at Schipol airport, I dropped my pack in a locker (those things are brilliant!!) and caught the train into Amsterdam Centraal. The train system there is slightly confusing. I got onto the wrong platform a few times, but luckily everyone speaks English and are more than willing to help.
Once in Amsterdam I started walking. I didn’t really have any plans or things that I specifically wanted to see, so I just wandered around the streets with no particular direction observing and taking pictures! There is still quite a lot of snow around and the majority of the canals are frozen over. It’s amusing to watch the ducks and the swans where the ice is, seeing them waddle around on top.
Even without looking for it I stumbled across the red light district. Lots of people wandering around there.  Quite sad really, not an industry you would want anyone to have to fall into for whatever reason.

Cheese shop

About 3pm I caught a train (after some confusion) to Haarlam and then did some more wandering around there for another 2 hours. There is a windmill there, so I got to see my first windmill (its not turned on at the moment though), so that was pretty cool. Plenty of nice buildings and a few impressive churches.  I’ve noticed that the church bells here have a really different sound to the bells you hear in England, different patterns. Very pretty sound. I like it.

Shrek inspiration tree

I even saw a tree that I swear was the inspiration for the talking trees in Shrek 3!!

Around 5pm I was picked up by Yara and went back to her apartment. We got along straight away and I really enjoyed her company. She is very passionate about her country and was keen for me to try and experience different things, and to show me around as best as able. We went for dinner with another friend of hers to a Mexican restaurant and then after that went to a pub where we met up with another friend of theirs with the intention to have some hot drinks but there was no water! Apparently the main water was turned off somewhere over the whole city and no one knew why. When we got home later we discovered that Yara also had no water, but thankfully it came on a couple hours later. I had a really enjoyable evening with them and felt very welcomed and at home.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas all around the world!!!

Right now it is Christmas Eve in the UK, and already it is Christmas in Australia. I have been quite blessed and been looked after quite abit over the past 2 days since leaving Manchester. Have started feeling the Christmas Spirit and had God looking after my every move and made some 'miracles' happen as Lauren says.

Yesterday I said goodbye to Manchester (again) and caught my train to London early in the morning, meeting up with Lauren at Stratford Station where we travelled out to Manor Park where we stayed with a lovely Romanian family. They shared with us a few of their traditions and foods that they would normally have, so it has been a multicultural Christmas so far. We also managed to get through the metro on a couple of occasions when we didn't really have the right tickets!! I had mistakenly thought that Manor park was within zones 1/2 (when its really 3/4) and so I had the wrong ticket. Thankfully though, there isn't a gate at Manor park so I walked through twice without the right ticket. Then later on Lauren lost her ticket so I gave her mine and used my oyster card and thankfully again didn't get caught!! Thanks God!!

Apparently in Romania many people (including this family) will wait until Christmas eve to start decorating their tree, decorating the house, singing christmas songs and christmas foods. George, one of the brothers in the house explained to us last night that how Christmas happens in the UK and alot of places with decorations and everything starting so far in advance, that there is no christmas spirit. By delaying it to the night before, they can really feel it in their heart and celebrate.

After spending some time with George, Lauren and I hit the metro and went to Hyde Park to the Winter wonderland. We wandered around the christmas markets and took in the sights, sounds (and cold) of an English winter. We tried roasted chestnuts for the first time, Lauren had mulled wine for the first time and I even saw a lake frozen over!

Well maybe it's not quite a lake, but one of the big dams (it looks like a lake) and all the creeks in Hyde Park and James park in London were completely frozen over! I don't think it was very deep though. I admittedly had to laugh when a guy near us went too close to the lake in Hyde park and slipt in. Must have been very very cold. They had put witches hats on top to warn people that it wasn't the path and I think he was just testing how close he could get and yes.. bad bad idea!!

After the Christmas markets we started walking towards Big Ben with a quick stop by Buckingham Palace. Everything looks so different at night (perhaps its the fact that there aren't so many people) and then made our way past Westminster Abbey. I've never been inside. I think you have to pay normally. Anyway there were all these people going inside (with tickets), so we wandered over to see what was happening and were told that it was a carols service. The guy out the front then gave us a ticket so we got to go in!!! For free which was even better! It was beautiful in there, very formal and we got to even have real candles with the carols.

I started my day today with a glass of homemade Romanian wine and some sort of marbled chocolate walnut cake (also Romanian). Not my typical breakfast (or the norm for them) but... The family (brothers and sisters living together) we stayed with, their mother (in Romania) had posted them all the food they would normaly eat over Christmas so that they could have a proper Romanian Christmas. This amounted to over 50kg!!! Not including another 20kg in wine (as previously mentioned I sampled at breakfast!!) that was made at home using grapes they grew.

We managed to catch the train down to Shoreham by seconds. Literally. We were meant to get the 14:21 train to Brighton then swap and catch a second leg to shoreham. but the booked train was cancelled and we managed to jump on a different train which went straight to Shoreham. But we arrived on the platform (it left at 1417) about 20 seconds before it left!!! All the trains were packed and full of people with bags all trying to get home for Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I don't really feel much of the 'Christmas Spirit' this year. I think that's probably because I feel alot of that is connected to a sense of belonging, a place, and connection with friends and family. And I'm a bit disconnected at the moment. It could also be that I'm used to a hot (and often wet) christmas, so a cold christmas is an entirely new scenario.

It started to snow this week. It is beautiful, and definitely transforms landscapes completely. The first snow was on Thursday, and I watched in wonder from the window of the office (I have only seen it snow once before). It didnt settle though, just made everything wet and icy. Friday night was when it started to really snow. It started at about 8pm and went most of the night, ended up being about 25cm deep. When I was walking home from dinner, there were kids having snowball fights in the middle of the street. Looked like fun!

It will be strange not to be home for Christmas, as there are funny little traditions within our family, some family friends and our next door neighbours on Christmas morning. There is talk of seeing if I can be skyped when its Christmas day in Aus and Christmas Eve in the UK to still be a part of it all.

There are definite negative sides to being so nomadic. I heard my first Christmas carol this week when I was at work at the hospital, and only heard a few seconds of it as I walked past the ward. I ate my first mince pie at the hospital christmas dinner but other than that, the usual connotations with christmas haven't really been there.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spanish Lessons

I began writing this while flying back to Manchester from Malaga in Spain. The last two weeks have been a great relief from the cold of England and God has been teaching me a few things.
Cliffs near los canos de meca

I have learnt to slow down a bit more and appreciate beauty in the smaller things. When I first arrived at Los canos de meca I didn’t particularly think of it as a beautiful area. Nice yes, but not amazing. I have been spoilt though growing up in Australia and Zambia in incredibly beautiful areas, the best beaches in the world… As I did more exploring around the area, I became much more aware of beauty in smaller things, flowers, butterflies, landscapes. 

I have also had the fact confirmed (it was previously suspected) that I am a high candidate for being susceptible to Seasonal depressive disorder or whatever it’s called. When I first told people that I was coming to England, many who know me were like ‘Why? You hate the cold!’. I find that I can tolerate it, but yeah it definitely does bring my mood down and can make me a bit miserable at times, and withdraw a lot. Warmth and lots of sunshine (and ideally beaches) really really improves my mood. Before when I’d left England for Spain, I didn’t even really want to talk to people and became a lot more reclusive, but now I’m back to my normal bouncy self, much more willing an open and wanting to talk to people.
Trafalgar lighthouse
 God honestly really looked after me with the weather hey. Before and when I arrived, it had been raining. But the weather (even though predicted to rain) just got clearer and clearer and warmer and warmer. Thursday, my last day of working it got above 25 degrees so I went down to the beach and sunbaked for a bit, relishing in the warmth!!! I was going to swim, except there was a bit of a breeze down there that would have made a chillfactor bit too cool for swimming. I’d been about knee deep in the water and was surprised to find it not that cold –  its probably comparable to the coolness of the ocean in summer in aus! I must have timed it well (or just God blessing me), because Friday the sun disappeared, the clouds, wind (and probably rain) came back and the temperature dropped, so no more sun. Makes it easier to leave, or easier on transitioning back to the UK! I think it is about 2 degrees at the moment in Manchester. Freezing! Ke frio!!

The view from magic mountain
Before coming to Spain I think I was quite stressed and tensed which tends to manifest itself in physical (and maybe some mental) symptoms for me, restlessness, muscular aches, anxiety, terrible concentration, getting teary at random times over stupid things… I did get a bit stressed out while in Spain, but that was more related to trying to find accommodation for Manchester and Dubai and going round in circles and the frustration that provided. I’m now feeling significantly better. I’m sure even more sunshine and warmth would further improve that, but that can wait till I get to dubai and then Australia within the coming weeks.

Completely weeded vege garden ready for planting!
I really enjoyed being outside and doing some work with my hands rather than being inside for a change. Actually, I think that having less pressure from work helped as well. I love being a dietitian, but recently I have been working with a lot of TPN patients (total parenteral nutrition – feeding through the veins when the gut isn’t working), which is extremely interesting, but it is EXTREMELY precise, huge risks associated with it, and you have to be very very particular with your calculations,  your documentation to make sure you don’t cause unnecessary injury (like increasing their TG or damaging liver or something by using the wrong rate) so a lot of responsibility there that is always playing on the back of your mind. Working in the garden, while more physically, doesn’t have as much mental responsibility so a bit of a break there. I find that I need to be doing something, to feel useful or productive, and yeah I enjoyed this experience of workawaying. I’m thinking about doing more next year if possible. We’ll see. There are so many amazing places you can work around the world in this context, doing so many things, working in guesthouses, working on the land, child care, language teaching… the list goes on and on and on. I’m keen to do more! 

My painting handiwork
Working in the garden also brought up a lot of personal questions about what I want to do as well, where I want to go, what I want to do. It re-introduced me to an interest in holistic health, herbal medicine and naturopathy which I’ve had for years and years (used to cart my herb pots around NSW/VIC between jobs!!). It made me wonder whether I should look back into furthering knowledge in that area rather than International health and development? I’m not sure, I will see what happens I guess. When I was exploring and working in the garden I enjoyed discovering new plants, or realising how many plants I actually recognised by name without prompting (both wild and cultivated). I was exploring the cliffs one morning and was looking at a plant and suddenly thought, hey I know that plant! It was wild rosemary – the cliffs and mountainside of the area in canos de meca was covered in rosemary!! I picked a whole bunch of it and we cooked it that night with potatoes. Mmmmmm J yum!

A chozita

The magic bus I slept in

Kitchen we cooked in outside the bus

Inside the magic bus - my bed!
So now I’m heading back to Manchester. I had a bit of a crazy weekend because of Francesca my car failing the MOT test before I left for Spain. Once in Manchester I picked up my car (was glad to see it where I left it, not stolen or frozen to death!!!), and then drove down to Felixstowe to Aunty June’s place. My relatives down there are going to help me sell it, to a garage or a wreckers. Means I can also see them briefly before Christmas. I’ve rented a room out in a student house in Rushholme until the 23rd December while working at the hospital for 1.5 weeks.

Then it’s down to London where hopefully I will see Lauren (who I was debating going to Morocco to see) for a day then I’ll be in Shoreham/Brighton for Christmas before flying to Dubai for new years eve via Amsterdam and prague, then before I know it I’ll be back in Australia. All happening!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mi Casa

I can’t believe I’ve already been in Spain for a week. I managed to catch the bus last week from Malaga to La Barca de Vejer, where I waited for about 40 minutes in a little bit of rain. I managed to spend pretty much the entire day last Tuesday speaking only Spanish, so that was pretty good I thought! My week here so far has however, highlighted at I do and don’t know in Spanish. I have found that know a lot of different words, and can often understand at least vaguely what people are on about, but then struggle to speak back. It is a really different experience not being able to speak with people. You have things to say, but are really limited by not having words that can be mutually understood. 

The 'before' shot of the veggie garden (after taking out the potatoes)
Working with the veggies
 I have been living/working in Los Canos de Meca, which is a little coastal village in Andalusia, southern Spain. Majority of people here speak very minimal English, so it is a good way to practice Spanish. I am workawaying (or wwoofing) at Casas Karens, for about 5 hours a day (with the weekend off). The main thing I came down here to do is the vegetable garden. However I have also done some painting, moved furniture, typed out documents on computers in English, lots of weeding and random other things. General maintenance of the property really. 

The beach on a sunny day

 I’m currently living on a bus! I’ll have to take a picture of it at one point before I leave. There are 2 other guys working here at the moment, Jeffrey from the Netherlands and Josh from America. We all tend to get along quite well which is good, doing meals together and stuff. We sort of ran out of food today (need to remember to ask the people we are working for to bring us some more food tomorrow) so for dinner tonight we had fried green tomatoes!! They were actually pretty good, I know there is a movie about it but I’ve never seen it or eaten them before (as far as I’m aware, I might have in Africa). I was working in the vege garden today and pulled out all the tomato plants and there was lots of green ones that weren’t going to ripen so that’s how we ended up with that for dinner.

Trafalgar Lighthouse

I’ve been very blessed with the weather while here, as it was forecasted for heavy rain the entire time. There has been some showers on and off on odd days and there was about 3 days last week of pure sunshine which was amazing! The temperature here is approximately 15 degrees I think, which is still cool, but in comparison to England, it is total bliss!! It’s a bit like winter when we lived in Zambia, where if you are outside in the sun you can get around in shorts and a t-shirt.

 Speaking of the wind. Apparently there is a name for the wind here. But I can’t remember it! But basically it means that it drives people crazy, because there is a wind from the south (the desert of Africa) that is hot, and then there is a wind from the north (the snow) that is cold and then combined the winds just make everyone go crazy!

On Saturday I had my first experience of hitchhiking!! I was asked at the last minute by Karen (the boss) if I wanted to go into Vejer with her to have a look at the markets. As I hadn’t been there before, I decided to join and Olivia the cleaner of the property here gave us a lift halfway and dropped us off at the roundabout. I thought that was a bit of a funny place to get dropped off but it worked. Then we started walking and Karen flagged someone down, we jumped in and drove the rest of the way into Vejer. It was a bit of an overcast day, but I can imagine that in the heat of summer with blue skies, Vejer would be a gorgeous city, quite dazzling and you would definitely need sunnies because everything is so white. I don’t know how they keep it so clean.

Oranges on the streets of Vejer

The markets were beginning to shut down when we arrived, so had a little bit of a wander round and I explored a bit of the city too. I’ve noticed that the cities (well the few that I have seen so far) seem to have lots and lots of orange trees around them with oranges (naturally). I wonder if you are allowed to pick them and eat them or not. On the way back we walked through the countryside on the hill, probably walked for about 1.5 hours and then it was starting to get darker so we dropped at a friend of Karens’ house and had tea and some sort of almond biscuits that apparently come out at Christmas time and he gave us a lift back to the casas.  

The view of the countryside